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Agri MNCs are pushing their products as govt agriculture extension systems crumble

Pradhan Mantri Kisan Maan Dhan Yojana, registration of PM-KMY scheme, Narendra Singh Tomar, PM-KMY registration process, PM-KISAN scheme
  • By- Harish Damodaran

At a time when government agriculture extension systems are crumbling, that gap is increasingly being filled by multinationals and corporates working directly with farmers, even while aggressively marketing their products. A good example would be Syngenta. The $ 13.5 billion Swiss agrochemical-cum-seed major, currently owned by the Chinese state-owned enterprise ChemChina, has designed crop-specific integrated solutions or "protocols" for paddy, maize/corn, cotton, chilli and tomato grown in India. These basically guide farmers on the application of its agrochemical products at various growth stages of a crop, right from sowing. Thus, there is a specific GroMore protocol for paddy, Fast Start for cotton, and MaxVeg for chilli and vegetables.

Under MaxVeg, chilli growers are advised first to treat their seeds using 'Cruiser' insecticide (the active ingredient molecule is thiamethoxam) for protection against root grub, termites and nematode pests. At 12.5 gram per acre, it costs about Rs 100. Once sowing happens, the seedlings, after around 12 days in the nursery, are drenched with 100 gm of 'Ridomil Gold' (mefenoxam plus mancozeb), costing Rs 200/acre, to control root wilt fungus. This is followed, within 15-25 days after nursery sowing, by spraying of 40 ml 'Alika' (thiamethoxam plus lambda cyhalothrin: Rs 125) and 15 ml 'Amistar' (azoxystrobin: Rs 100) against a broad range of sucking insect pests (aphids, whitefly and jassids) and fungi, respectively.

Before the chilli seedlings are transplanted 30 days after sowing, a fresh treatment of 'Cruiser' (25 gm: Rs 200) is recommended. On the 15th day following transplantation, farmers are told to apply 150 gm of 'Actara' (thiamethoxam: Rs 350/acre) along with 350 ml of 'Isabion' (a bio-stimulant to enhance crop vigour and growth: Rs 350). On the 20th day, the same dose of 'Isabion' (Rs 350) is given with 80 ml of 'Alika' (Rs 250), with this combination repeated on the 40th day as well. In between are the applications of 'Folio Gold' (a fungicide having mefenoxam and chlorothalonil active ingredients: 400 ml or Rs 500/acre on 30th day) and 'Pegasus' (diafenthiuron active ingredient to control whitefly and mites: 250 gm or Rs 950/acre on 35th day). At this stage, the farmer would already have spent Rs 4,075 per acre.

Once flowering initiation takes place from the 45th day, the MaxVeg protocol requires application of 250 gm 'Splash' (chlorothalonil: Rs 350/acre) and 100 ml 'Score' (difenoconazole: Rs 200) fungicides mainly against anthracnose and leaf spot diseases. Then come a 200-ml dose of 'Amistar' on the 50th day to prevent any flower drop (Rs 1,050/acre), 250 gm of 'Pegasus' on the 60th day (Rs 950), 200 ml of 'Amistar Top' (azoxystrobin plus difenoconazole: Rs 900) on the 75th day and the earlier 'Splash-Score' combination on the 90th day (Rs 550). By this time, the fruits would have started turning red from green, after first appearing in 55-60 days.

Simply put, the entire MaxVeg protocol would cost upwards of Rs 8,000 per acre. The farmer may additionally have to spray against sucking pests or chilli fruit borer on an as-needed basis. These out-of-protocol applications again cost money: Each 80-100 ml round of Syngenta's 'Proclaim' (emamectin benzoate) or 'Ampligo' (chlorantraniliprole plus lambda cyhalothrin) insecticide entails an expenditure of Rs 700-900 per acre. And there could be up to three rounds, taking the total to Rs 11,000-plus per acre.

The above application details only capture the level of engagement - how Syngenta is seeking to promote its crop protection products among farmers by developing protocols for usage at different growth stages. These integrated crop protection solutions are, moreover, crop-specific. "We are probably the only company employing this approach, which goes beyond product-selling to providing crop-wise and situation-wise solutions. By using our protocols, farmers can expect to harvest significantly higher yields. Our interest is in building trust that will enable us to sell to them year after year," says J. Erik Fyrwald, chief executive officer of the Basel-headquartered Syngenta International AG.

In 2018-19, Syngenta's total sales in India was Rs 3,131 crore ($ 440 million), of which some 65% came from agrochemicals and the balance from seeds (mainly corn, tomato, capsicum, cauliflower, watermelon and other vegetables). "India generates hardly 3% of our global revenues, which we would want to take to 10%. That's fairly realistic for a country housing almost a fifth of the world's population," Fyrwald tells The Indian Express.

Syngenta has just set up an "innovation and learning centre" at Bhimadole in Andhra Pradesh's West Godavari district. The centre, spread over 38 acres, will act as a facility to test out the company's new seed and crop protection products, besides showcasing them to progressive farmers, channel partners and agriculture department officials.

"This centre will focus on paddy, corn, cotton, chilli and such crops grown in south India. The plan is to have three more centres in the country's other regions," adds Rafael Del Rio, managing director, Syngenta India Ltd.